Will the Smart #1 be locally assembled within the next few years? That seems to be the indication communicated by Proton deputy CEO Roslan Abdullah as he says the local automaker plans to build and launch their own EV by 2027.
Proton has been tapped to become the regional distribution (Malaysia and Thailand, for now) partner for the Smart brand, more specifically the #1, a high-riding EV hatchback developed as a joint-venture between Mercedes-Benz and Geely, using the latter’s technology and manufacturing backbone.
As Bernama reports, they will use the intervening 5 yeas to strengthen their capabilities in electric vehicles, but it’s unclear how much of that is intended to be homegrown or borrowed from existing Geely expertise.
It’s quite clear that Proton has a product roadmap that includes electrification and fully electric vehicles, but much like the X70 and X50, many expect them to be badge-engineered versions of existing models already on sale from the Chinese automaker, with a little added local twist.
With Smart Automobile as a distribution partner, Proton expects the collaboration to “teach us how to assemble EVs locally and give us experience and knowledge on the assembly process,” Roslan said, adding that “it will give us ample time to determine which technology is most acceptable, easy to maintain and affordable for consumers and us.”
This heavily implies that the Smart #1 will be, at some point, made in Malaysia despite confirmation that units offered for sale here will be fully imported at launch, likely under their newly established Pro-Net subsidiary focusing on ‘new energy vehicles’.
The deputy CEO also touched on the crucial part that the government will have to play in EV adoption such as supply chain investment and R&D programmes to foster local talent and expertise. Should stronger support not be forthcoming, industry readiness will stagnate and Malaysians far less likely to be favourable in shifting to electric when choosing their next car.
“These challenges include Malaysia not having many affordable EV cars, slow consumer adoption, lack of clarity on EV charging infrastructure development, talent development in the EV segment and lack of investment in related technologies,” he said.